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ACTING AND ATHLETICS Talent takes a theatric turn



Published: Mon, March 31, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



1A number of area high school athletes can also sing, dance and entertain.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

Given the choice between (a) facing the Warren Harding football defense, (b) trying to hit a Tom Zetts' fastball, (c) standing in front of a Darcy Quinlan drive to the basket or (d) singing the national anthem, most high school athletes will choose anything but option D.

But not all. Kara Kalasky, a three-year letter-winner for the Canfield High volleyball team, regularly rescued an unreliable sound system with stirring a cappella renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner."

On stages throughout the Valley this spring, talented student-athletes are perfecting their chops in another nerve-wracking pursuit: spring theatrical productions.

Some have the talent to reach the highest note in "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and scoring the game-winning goal or basket.

Some are able to help their team score the winning touchdown and recite the words of The Bard.

Usually, at smaller schools, it's more likely to find athletes taking part in plays and musicals.

At bigger schools, competition from larger student bodies often keeps athletes and performers separate.

Boardman, Austintown Fitch and Canfield are among the exceptions.

Welcomed

Jeannine Hodge, Boardman's theatrical director, has no qualms about casting athletes in key roles.

"It's all about working together," said Hodge, who directed Boardman's production of "Hello Dolly" last fall and "Our Town" last month.

"You hope the coaches compromise [about practice conflicts]," Hodge said. "Here, they have. If cooperation exists, a student can do it all."

To many, juggling the commitments of athletics and acting is almost impossible. The time required to excel at both takes a tremendous toll. But it can be done.

Mike Bestic, the Boardman stage manager for "Our Town," has been busy running from track practices to stage rehearsals.

Jeremy DeLorenzo, a Boardman sophomore whose tennis season gets under way this week, played Mr. Webb in "Our Town." He also has a part in Easy Street Productions' upcoming "The Will Rogers Follies."

During the weeks leading up to the play, DeLorenzo would practice tennis after school then rehearse his lines in the evenings.

Hodge chose to work around DeLorenzo's athletic schedule.

"He's an excellent actor," Hodge said.

Last fall, Hodge saw similar dedication from swimmers Brian Katz and Katie Leone.

"Katie would come to practices with her hair soaking wet from practice," Hodge said. "And Brian, he's exceptional -- a champion swimmer, a soccer player and a straight-A student."

Hodge said her strategy is to not "look at what they're involved in. Instead, we ask for conflicts then try to rework our schedules."

Handle loads

A mathematics teacher, she's noticed that athletes-performers excel "at budgeting their time. A lot will tell you that they do better when they are doing so much at one time."

Austintown Fitch is staging the play "Caught in the Act" on April 11-12. Of the 24 cast members, 11 of them are athletes.

Six of them -- Amanda Williamson, Megan Dobstaff, Kelly Rebracca, Rob Thorndyke, Brandon Plants, and Amber Gallagher -- are on the track and field team.

Canfield's production of "Footloose" being staged this weekend also has several athletes. The leads include Jarid Faubel (tennis and baseball), Ashley Nord (tennis and swimming) and Amanda Williams (softball and volleyball).

Jonny Yurco, who has the male lead, practices martial arts.

Other athletes are Jamie Bastian (tennis), Aaron Bestic (soccer), Andy Davis and Bob Dibiec (ice hockey), Matt Narducci (track) and Tim Dewberry (football).

Freshman Joe Rosko, who participates in football, basketball and baseball, is involved in his second stage production in five months.

Mooney also is staging "Footloose" this weekend. Director Joanne Carney-Smith says this is the first year that the Mooney spring production doesn't feature athletes in lead roles.

"Last year, Anthony King, who was our quarterback, was in 'Godspell'," she said, noting the benefits a production can reap from such casting.

"The kid could sing and dance," Carney-Smith said, "and he brought a new level of excitement to the show."

The box office benefited.

Fill seats

"Football players came and saw the show," she said. "The crowds were huge and it impacts your show."

In a recent Chaney production of Shakespeare's "MacBeth," football players Jim Sullivan, Matt Hoskins and Chris Merrell participated.

Candy Fonagy, the Poland High director of the play "M*A*S*H" that will be staged April 10-12, is someone willing to take a chance on an athlete even if it means rescheduling.

Last spring when Poland staged "The Sting," the play was postponed for a month because the Poland basketball team advanced to the state tournament.

Basketball players David McGarry, Greg Ekins and softball player Tiffany Fonagy, Candy's daughter, were in the cast.

"Things were interesting," Candy Fonagy said of the schedule change, "but it was for the best of reasons.

Fonagy said she has no trouble taking chances on athletes. "If they really love it and the talent, then they will give you the work.

"They come prepared," Fonagy said. "You don't really have to direct them, just tell them their blocking and turn them loose. It's almost the same as when they go on court or ball field -- they're talented kids and they just run with it.

"And they bring a nice dimension because they come in as a team players."

Fonagy has two athletes in her "M*A*S*H" cast -- tennis player Bryan Stefek and Chris Patrick who runs the 800- and 1600-meters.

"My big thing is just because a student is an athlete, that doesn't they don't have acting or singing talent," Fonagy said. "Just because they are involved with wonderful athletic programs doesn't mean they have to be excluded from other worthwhile programs.

"If a student is willing to do both, I want to give them this chance because they may never get one like it again."




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